Thursday, 28 January 2010

Work to live, don't live to work

Got an email today, one of those that does the rounds that I read a couple of years back when some one else sent it. One of those messages that reminds you that you have more control in your life than you realise. Thought I'd include it here to remind myself where I'm going and how I'm trying to be the little fisherman in the village living in the moment rather than the big harvard business man living for a future dream.

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican fishing village.

A tourist complimented the local fishermen on the quality of their fish and asked how long did it take to catch them.

"Not very long." they answered in unison.

"Why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?"

The fishermen explained that their small catches were sufficient to meet their needs and those of their families.

"But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"We sleep late, fish a little, play with our children, and take siestas with our wives. In the evenings, we go into the village to see our friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. We have a full life."

The tourist interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."

"And after that?"

"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant.

You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City ,Los Angeles , or even New York City !

From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?"

"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years." replied the tourist.

"And after that?"

"Afterwards? Well my friend, that's when it gets really interesting, " answered the tourist, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?" asked the fishermen.

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

“That’s what we are doing now” Replied the fishermen

And the moral of this story is:

......... Know where you're going in life.... you may already be there!

My experience is that I realised a while back that I am much closer to my dreams than I realised. Point being I have tried in my own way to achieve a lot of success in the hope that my dreams would come sooner. In truth I found that they got further away mainly because the process of achieving my dreams is just as interesting and fun to me as the realisation of them. I'll never actually be satisfied and stop trying to learn more about who I am and how to get more out of myself. The constant improvement is its own reward.

So now I just keep asking myself what it is I want? and then keep tweaking what I do so it's closer and closer to my dream. When I get close to my dream I then think more about the dream and add more detail. So it's a constantly evolving process that will never end but will always be fun. In theory anyway.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Had the wierdest vision out on my walk today. Just had to record it. Was listening to biota live podcast talking about emergence of life and the universe.

My mind wandered off visioning how the stars like our sun actually create the basic atoms in their huge furnaces. Then I imagined how the land emerges through volcanic eruptions and disappears through earthquakes with plates sliding underneath each other.

I then jumped to a vision where the universe could grow and conract by energy flowing into it through stars or some such hole and flow out again through black holes.

It's a freaky notion but since concepts such as streing theory apparently imply the universe may have a different shape than we perceive then it might be possible.

It just seems a fascinating idea that the univers itself could be constantly growing and contracting just like the earth and that this constant change could be the flow required to produce life. Without it the universe might be stagnant and voisd of life.

Of course it's just my imagination but it seems like a cool idea anyway

Monday, 25 January 2010

Is the mechanism of a reflex like the caching of the internet

Following on from my previous post I wanted to point out the similarities between the nervous infrastructure of our bodies and the network infrastructure of the internet and how they both increase speed of delivery and decision making.

For reflexes, such as returning a serve in tennis, what's happening is that your body will bypass most of it's processing systems and instead delegate control to nerve bundles closer to the areas directly involved in coordinating the necessary movements. This way the info takes the shortest and fastest route possible through the body to reach the unit that initiates and controls the work.

The signals coming from this unit are also sent directly to the necessary muscles and organs. They have high priority and no checking or processing is done in between. Again this makes sure everything is done as quickly as possible.

So the speed the information is passed around the system to get the result is maximised. The control unit is also designed to quickly turn the input info such as  speed, direction and spin of the ball into a strategy and a set of instructions of each part of the body to carry out. From a guess at where the ball will be in x ms time, to where the parts of the body need to be at that point.

This communication is not a one time thing. It's happening hundreds of times a second with split second timing.

Pretty impressive stuff.  The main benefits are reduced processing and communication time, this is acheieved by bringing the controlling unit(s) closer to the senses, muscles and other organs doing the work thus reducing the input of the distant brain and spinal cord. Basically it's a process of effective delegation. The effectiveness of local delegation will be related to effects mentioned in my previous post.

When it comes to the web we see a similar structure. We may request a page from a web site half way round the globe. The first time this happens we have to wait a while for everything to download because it's actually being pulled from half way round the world. Our browser is constantly communicating in the background with a web server which is working with other servers to gather the info you need. They're all constantly talking to each other across vast distances. This is why it takes so long.

The next time some one makes the same request to the server rmembers exactly where to check for latest info. It stores a copy of the previous request and checks if anything has changed. The network now knows the fastest route between the servers. So decisions get made faster and communication is faster too. If there isn't much change then the page isn't fetched from across the web. Instead the server your browser asked first send it's stored copy to your browser. This enhanced process means you see the page load maybe 10 times faster. All because the process is designed for effective delegation to local decision makers.

I know the systems aren't exactly the same but I hope you can see how remarkably similar they are. I hope it gives you confidence that some insights you have in one area of life might be able to teach you something about how your body works. From that you might see how to use it better and have more fun.

do our minds work like browser caches?

It occurred to me recently how to express my experience of how I learn and how our brains are capable of providing lightning fast access to so much of the info we hold in our heads.

I think the process might be similar to the methods used in hardware and software mainly because I think they evolved for the same reason.

I've always noticed that I get good at anything I do regularly and slowly get worse at things I do less regularly. Preparing for exams I can become an expert on a particular topic but soon after that knowledge takes longer for my brain to retrieve and I no longer have the confidence in every bit of it that I used to have.

This is exactly how web browser caches work. As you surf the web the browser starts saving the images and html files on your local machine so the next time you visit the page it can check if it's still the same. If so it saves time and processing effort by finding the page on disk instead of downloading from the web. This makes sense because it optimises the use of internet bandwidth and gets pages displayed quickly. My brain just seems to do exactly that. Make local copies of things. It also organises it's cache into the most commonly used items being faster to retrieve, less common items are slower to retrieve.

Normally, storing items for fast retrieval is expensive. For the browser it will take up disk space. I've noticed how my google chrome cache is 0.5gb!!! Yep that's seriously large. I don't delete it because I think that's a big part of why chrome is so fast and because disk space is relatively cheap.

In the brain I think a similar relationship applies. Memories that are easy and fast to retrieve normally have more connections to key parts of the brain than that are slower. These connections need energy and maintenance and so only so many can be maintained at any one time. So on a daily basis, mainly during sleep, these connections are continually made and broken to retune the cache based on recent needs.

The same happens for a web browser cache. It needs constant maintenance to ensure fastest access to the most commonly used items and is constantly being adjusted to provide the best balance between cost and performance.

In seeing my brain this way I find it gives me a strategy for optimising my mental perfrormance. It helps me figure out how to have information and skills at my beck and call in say a week or months time when I'm going to need them. I just optimise my cache.

It also explains why I constantly need to maintain my abilities, because I see that my brain will only maintain some info or skill high up in its cache if it think it's important. The way I tell my body it's important is through using the skill or info. That justifies to the body the expensive connections it's maintaining to the cell storing it.

It also explains partly why it's easier to relearn something you once knew well than to learn something from scratch. It's because the info has already been stored in a cell or group of cells but the connections to it have been reduced and thus it's in the cache but not easy or fast to access. So the only work necessary to move it up the cache priority is to access the memory, tell the body it's an important memory so that it will increase the connections to the memory and therefore easy to access.

There are loads of other examples I've thought about where hardware and software solutions to data access and speed seem to mirror physical and mental solutions.

I've described briefly how browser caches reflect memory retrieval. I then wonder whether the infrastructure that delivers the internet to the millions of devices connected to it is similar in some way to the infrastructure with our bodies that supports the billions of individual cells we all have. That's a topic for another post.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Education should be about life challenges

I always notice how much life is just about overcoming challenges. Job interviews, tight deadlines, money troubles. The list goes on.

If education is supposed to prepare us for life and work then it would help to deliver each lesson as a response to a challenge or set of challenges. At the end of the lesson you've learnt and hopefully applied and experienced a few responses. You may not actually overcome the challenge, that's part of life too, but you've gone through a discovery process. Over a few lessons you then discover a solution to the challenge and then begin to refine it.

Ideally you'd now have basic records of how you've attempted to and eventually solved the problem. Just like at work when a customer needs to see value for money. The solution often looks simple but figuring it out was a challenge. Conveying that is a challenge in itself that's worth learning

By framing this learning as a challenge, discovery, response process you then get to examine through challenges. Each question is effectively a challenge and you use the skills you've learnt to find some kind of solution. The quality of which can be judged.

This can still be an essay it's just that the question is the challenge and how well you answer is your response.

I think education already does this but the message gets lost. The value of the journey to discovering the best response and understanding how to make best use of your assets isn't assessed and valued as much as the answer itself.

In real life, the best solution doesn't always win. It's often the one others can understand and use.

Monday, 18 January 2010

My public calendar

I've been wondering how to track my daily life and activities for a while. I'm finding little ways of tracking some. Then I thought I'd start making some of this public just like I share things on this blog. Why? the same reason it's useful to put my thoughts up. the value in sharing.

I'm just planning to share ingredients and recipes of things I've been cooking. I've been storing this in my calendar as part of figuring out how to make food fun, healthy and easy to prepare. It's just an ongoing experiment but I've been wanting to relate to it in articles so having it shared directly seemed easier.

I use google calendar so I've just created a new public calendar. All I need to do is switch items to the public calendar to make them public. to make them private again i just need to switch them back. that's really all I should need to do. Hopefully I can then use my mobile phone for cooking and update through the calendar app to the web directly.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Physical Changes That Come Along With Osteoporosis

Just found the article physical changes that come along with osteoporosis which is a nice succinct description of the latest understand of how osteoporosis is caused but also the effects it has on people.

then I found a really helpful 3d medication animation explaining osteoporosis further. This video is just the kind of tool I'm after to get information across faster and with higher quality. It seems to have come from

Friday, 8 January 2010

Evolution in tennis

It seems amazing to consider the same natural forces of evolution that apply to hunter and prey should apply in tennis and other sports but I think that's what we're seeing.

Normally either the hunted get faster so the hunters that can keep up get the prey and survive or vice versa.
In sports the constant push for an edge for everyone to find their limits and push beyond. Often just to keep up. Necessity is the mother of invention so they say.

Read this quote from andre agassi recapping 10 years of tennis in 2006 and see what you think
"Now we have power with control. Guys are definitely stronger and more athletic. It's very rare that I'm playing somebody that's my size or smaller. I think the technology, with rackets and with these strings - it allows for more control, more spin, so you can swing harder at the ball and the ball's still going to come down.
Back in the old days, 10 years ago, a lot of guys played with gut. That string was hard to control pace with. You had to worry about it getting away from guys are standing way back and taking full swings at the ball and they're doing it with much bigger frames. 
It's not uncommon to play guys taller than 6ft 4ins. It's normal. The string bites more so it offers more control. We see it in golf. They're always making the golf courses longer for a reason.
Personally I've learned how to fight more and better and smarter. I've learned to calculate the risk. I've gotten stronger. The game has got a lot more powerful and athletic in the last 10 years. It's changed more considerably. You have to adapt by becoming a better athlete I serve a lot better. I get a lot more free points on my serve now than I used to. Hopefully I don't make as many careless mistakes."

It's just fascinating to hear the evolution through his words. It makes me feel that evolution in sport is just as natural as that in the wild.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Your tendons need training too.

Just read a fascinating article from peak performance issue 186 sep 2003 explaining that tendons can have a huge impact on sports performance.

The main concept is the heavy weight training will increase the stiffness of a muscle tendon unit, while flexibility exercises will increase compliance.

the idea is that stiff achilles tendons store and return kinetic energy better and help endurance runners.

In turn heavy weight training without flexibility training may reduce the efficiency of the snap during a serve.  

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Is ageing inevitable - or simply the result of 'detraining'

That's a question I've been asking for a long time. Reading peak performance issue 192 jan 2004 I found an article asking this exact question.

They provided some useful evidence such as which is a list of single age marathon records for usa. They very clearly show times close to world record pace by much older athletes than expected. Like 2hr 25m for a 52yr old man.

4hr 28m for a 80 yr old man. A marathon at 80 in a a faster time than many half their age.

I see evidence all around me that lack of use and poor training methods lead to early ageing. This adds much to this view.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Come to the table: louise luiggi

Just finished reading "come to the table" by Louise Luiggi. Kat wanted to pop into borders before all the books had gone. I didn't want anything but tagged along. The cover intrigued me with tag line "a passion for eating and French living".

Just reading the jacket I new I would like it. A memoir of a journey discovering the role food plays in our lives and how to use to provide balance and happiness.

I really enjoyed reading it. A few recipes are provided but louise does not profess to be a cook. She simply shares the insights of a life torn between england a france. first as an au pere, then as wife to Stephane her corsican husband.

The lessons she learns through opening a shop to celebrate "french living" show how clearly the english and french attitudes to food differ and affect our lives.

It's just inspired me to be even more creative with the cooking stuff I got for crimbo. I can't wait to get started.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Why aren't mentoring and leadership skills a fundamental part of daily learning?

In my experience of learning I so often find that there are so few opportunities to lead and mentor. For the stronger students to help the less able.

I always noticed that every student had at least one class in which they excelled. In that class they were confident and happy. I don't feel our system does much to help these confident happy students pass this back to their fellow students.

I feel this is why we lack these skills in later life, few managers or colleagues attempt to mentor others and pass on skills and knowledge. I feel it's because we're not encouraged to develop this ability. Yet I feel it's a key part of creating happy, motivated and highly skilled teams and costs little in time or money to implement.

You see I saw lots of kids who failed in the classroom do very well at sport or art. As a teacher I would help these kids who do well to reach the next level by teaching their skills to the other children and by taking on the responsibility of organising small parts of activities. I'd also encourage them talk about why they enjoy the sport or art and encourage discussion with those kids who don't like it as much.

The point being that as a teacher I can focus my attention on the whole class. On helping the weaker children get something out of the activity and the stronger ones develop as more rounded and accomplished participants.

I'd do the same in the classroom with maths and english as I do with sports and art. l'd work on building relationships and teams so the children have both individual skills and skills within groups.

This isn't to say there was no group activity when I was young. In fact there was plenty. I just remember that I wasn't encouraged and mentored in the act of building up those in my team. The system doesn't reward the approach you use or the skills you learn, only the result. So there's no reward for teamwork and the skills and strengths it brings. We were all marked on result and thus we learnt generally to only trust ourselves and not others.


Friday, 1 January 2010

Just finished president obamas first book "dreams from my father". I really enjoyed it. It struck me how much it says about america that he got elected and that, through this book, I feel I know so much about him.

I can't imagine knowing this much about the british prime minister. British politics always seems so aloof, so distant. Yet this is the leader of the "free world" and I've listened to his deepest musings of a decade or two of his own life. I already trust him more than any politician I've seen in the uk.

The book is thought provoking. An insight into the troubles surrouding us all. The challenges of race, gender, ethnicity, age, that we all deal with. What I like most of the multicultural aspect which gives a natural balance to the book. Seeing life for one individual in their journey through indonesia (asia), america and kenya (africa).

I've always felt that we have as much in the developed worl to learn and gain from other cultures as we have to give and teach them. For me that's the fundamental thread of this book.

A fascinating and engrossing.